BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — ’Tis the season for family gatherings, parties and holiday cheer, but this time of year can be difficult for people in addiction treatment. Weeks of temptation and stress can derail recovery and even lead to relapse.
Losing ground during the holidays isn’t inevitable. Creating a plan and following some straightforward guidelines can make all the difference – and families can help, said Anne Adkins, clinical supervisor for BrightView’s Maumee addiction treatment center.
One of the first steps is understanding triggers – memories, people or situations that prompt an intense desire to use alcohol or drugs. During the holidays, those triggers could be the stress of paying for gifts, working extra hours or being with certain family members.
“The holiday season is trying for folks who have family issues,” Adkins said. “You’ve seen those memes about families. Substance abuse can often be a coping skill for family.”
For others, being isolated from family and friends during this season of gathering can also be stressful.
Add to that the increased promotion of alcohol as a part of the holidays, and it can be a recipe for disaster.
“People who are in recovery for alcohol use have a difficult time because if they say they don’t want to drink, people ask why. You’ve heard that saying, ‘If you keep going to the barbershop long enough, eventually you’re going to get a haircut.’ To put someone in a situation with drugs and alcohol, there’s a great chance they will pick it back up,” said Kari Council, a BrightView peer recovery supporter who recalls facing holiday triggers and traumas early on in her own sobriety.
Families of those in addiction treatment can help by putting away the alcohol and asking, “How can I make it more comfortable for you?” Some holiday traditions can be supportive, so find out what those are, Adkins said, and seek knowledge on what addiction is like.
“It’s a disease, not a moral failing of the brain. Treat it as any other disease,” Adkins said.
For those working through addiction, she advises identifying triggers and making a plan that includes healthy distractions, meetings and finding safe people who are not using.
Coping skills might include hobbies, reading and movies that don’t glorify substance abuse. Coloring is a popular distraction, especially with adult coloring books and mandalas.
“It takes your attention from the thought of wanting to use,” Adkins said.
Having a safe network of trusted people is also key.
Council, who has been in recovery from alcohol addiction, recently opened a box of Christmas decorations that reminded her of her late husband. To deal with that memory, instead of turning to alcohol, she called her sponsor.
“Every time you talk about something, it loses power,” she explained.
She decided that the best option for her was to throw out the box. It’s a technique that’s helped her. Council said she’s even written messages, put them into bottles and thrown them out.
While that technique works for her, she helps clients to set their own goals and find solutions to triggers.
“The road to recovery is different for everyone – no two are the same,” Council said.
While Council had to go to jail before rehab, others are prompted by the loss of a job, family or home – or just the feeling that they’ve had enough, Adkins said. BrightView, which opened in March 2019, now has 250 patients, each with a unique story.
“Every time someone walks into the door, it’s a success,” Adkins said. “Every time they come back, it’s a success.”
BrightView’s facility has both a medical and a clinical component. The medical staff, led by Dr. Sanjit Dhaliwal and nurse practitioner Nadine Amato, ensures that each patient is checked for any physical health problems. Those who are dealing with opioid addiction may be prescribed medication meant to ease them into sobriety, and they are monitored closely.
On the clinical side, a staff of counselors works one on one with patients to identify triggers and traumas. Group meetings, following the matrix model of treatment, are set up to go through questions to help in the discovery and recovery process. Some groups are specific to parents, women and LGBTQ+ clients, and groups are being formed to focus on anger and grief. The meetings may last up to three hours, but Adkins said no one ever runs out of topics to talk about.
“I may have ideas as a facilitator, but they’ll bring something up and it’s what we really need to talk about,” she said.
In addition to individual and group sessions, clients are also encouraged to participate in either in-person or online groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, and to be in touch with their sponsors regularly.
Sometimes it takes several tries for someone to make it through – and that’s OK.
“They can remain as long as they want. We still have people who come in who joined us when we opened in 2019. Some have to go through severe loss and feel the pain and go through the struggle,” Adkins said.
BrightView doesn’t turn people away if they come in and screening shows recent drug use. Instead, they are set up with counseling and peer support to help them back on that recovery journey.
Council recalls one patient who relapsed and lost his girlfriend, children and job. She sent him messages to get him back and he’s since made a complete turnaround.
“Giving up on them won’t help them,” Council said. “Some just come back in tears and say, ‘Thank you for being here for me.’”
For those interested in starting that recovery journey, BrightView has a 24-hour hotline at (833) 510-4357. In addition to accepting private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, the BrightView Foundation can assist those who need financial aid. Because effective addiction treatment often requires immediate care, walk-ins are welcome on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at 1655 Holland Rd., Suite F in Maumee.